(Makaeo Ball fields – Kailua Kona, Hawaii) As the sun rose on day two of the State Championship Tourney a storm was brewing mauka and the steam was rising from the sizzling ballpark. The Rebels came from behind by scoring four runs in the bottom of the sixth to defeat the Junk Yard Dogs 11-10. The win kept the Rebels’ tourney record spotless and secured a berth in the Division B Championship Game.
The Junk Yard Dogs came into the tournament a smoking hot team, drooling mad at having lost the Big Island Championship game by a mere one run in the late innings. They were out to prove they were the top dogs in the tournament and had the Rebels squarely in their sights.
As the tournament progressed, the Rebels attracted ever-larger crowds of fans that drew extra attention to the B Division games. The game set a new tournament attendance record as the growing excitement about Rebel softball drew an overflow crowd of 49,254. In fact, extra County crews were called in for emergency repairs to the public facilities that were overburdened by the throngs.
Veteran right hander Bruce Dean got the start for Junk Yard while the Rebels sent Gary Yates to the mound seeking his third win in as many games.
The Dogs were well known for their potent offensive attack and long ball prowess (they hit a lot of home runs). The JYD were by far and away the homerun champions of the tournament coming into the game having racked up a string of multi-home run games. Defensively, they prowled the field as if the ball was their prey.
The Dogs were a formidable force indeed as they came to the plate in the top of the first as visitors. They got right to business, coming up with four runs on six hits as they sent 9 batters to the plate. And when the Rebels went down quietly one-two-three in the home half, the Hilo squad gained confidence that they were well on their way to a big victory.
In the second inning, the Junk Yarders were going through their line-up for the second time. They opened with a ground ball single through the hole between third and short into left field. Yates got the next batter to hit back to him and spun around to get the runner at second for the first out. With one out and one aboard the pitcher hit a short sinking liner into the left. Right fielder Mike Allen – the notorious blaster, came up with two on and took a sinking slider back, back, back… and way over the left field fence for a three-run home run. It was the first out-of-the-park homer hit against the Rebels. The Dogs’ tails were wagging and they were happy puppies going to the bottom of the inning with a 7-0 lead.
The Dogs pranced onto the field figuring they had this game well in hand and would advance in the division. The Rebels had other ideas, loading up the pine tar and sharpening their titanium-embossed aluminum artillery. It was time for the middle of the order to show the Big Islanders they were in for a real dogfight. Pull hitter Tom Christy surprised the world (yes, the entire world) and hit a high fly into right center over the fielder’s head for a lead-off double. Already in scoring position, Myles Yoshida was called in to pinch run. Mark Koehler kept his scorching hitting streak going with a blistering shot past the third baseman sending Yoshida home with the first Rebel run of the game. The Ohana Motors Extra Hitter, Joed McCluskey, came up with none out and one on. He clobbered a nasty grounder that undressed the pitcher as he reached first while Koehler made it to third. J Robertson smacked a line drive into right field to score Koehler keeping two Rebels on the bases. Yates, in a perfect position to help his cause, stroked a soft liner into center field scoring McCluskey and allowing Robertson to get to third. Ray Gordon was called on to run for Yates in the rally. Larry Rego – with perhaps the hottest Rebel bat in the tournament – hit a blistering rocket into the gap in left sending Robertson home with the fourth run. To put extra speed on the bases Mark Koehler returned to run for Rego. A fly ball advanced Gordon to third with one away. Joe Sablan popped a high fly into shallow left field that the shortstop went out to play. As he caught the ball with his back to the plate, Gordon tagged up and took off from third. The shortstop brought out his bazooka arm and fired to home but Gordon got a great jump and beat the throw by several millimeters. The Rebels’ five run inning got them right back into the game and cut the lead to 7 to 5 after two.
Junk Yard showed why they were Championship material with another run in the top of the third. A lead-off single set it up. Yates got the next two batters out on fly balls. Stevens caught on deep fly to left on the run near the warning track for out number one. The next batter drove a line drive to dead right field that Joe Sablan leaped up and grabbed for the second out. The Rebels made the Junkers work hard – it took three straight singles before the Dogs could push the run across as the Rebels defense slowly started to turn the game’s momentum in their favor.
The Rebels came up empty in the bottom of the inning, with another one-two-three inning – lofting three fly balls to the outfield. The Rebels found themselves down 8 to 5 at the halfway point of the game.
The Rebel defense clamped down on the Dogs in the fourth shutting them out on just one hit and some fine defensive plays. With two down and two on, Gary Yates faced strong hitting left fielder Mike Du Bois. He started him off with a fast ball taken on the inside corner for a strike. The right hander, getting more confident, lofted a spinning Nigerian Nightmare toward a stunned Du Bois – who watched the pitch nick the back edge of the plate for strike two. The defense got set knowing a bullet was coming on the next pitch. Yates tossed his famous Jedi Mind Bender disappearing knuckler that buckled the batter’s knees as he watched it drop in the middle of the mat taking strike three. The Rebels fans roared their approval as the team jogged off the field.
The Rebels pulled a little closer in the fourth as Koehler got on with his second of three hits to open the inning. Joed McCluskey retired Koehler on a fielder’s choice giving way to a pinch runner at first. Robertson tried to slip one in the hole past shortstop and ended up grounding into another fielder’s choice cutting down the runner at second. Yates followed suit with a humongous blast to the wall in right field giving Robertson enough time to score from first on the double. The run cut the lead to 8 to 6 as the Junk Yard Dogs started to feel the pressure.
They responded to the challenge with yet another run in the fifth while witnessing the incredible Rebels defense that prevented more damage. The lead-off hitter singled into right field. The catcher was up next and hit a hot ground ball to short that was ticketed for left field. But Lambert Alapai deftly fielded the smash and fired to Tom Kuhlman at second for one out, and on to Roberts at first for a slick double play. Team captain Steve Markham, hitting leadoff, tried to lift one out of the park and fell just a little short this time with a triple that reached the left field garden. He scored on Du Bois’ line drive to right extending the lead to 9 to 7 and giving the panting Dogs a little breathing room. Mike Allen was next in the line-up and came to the plate looking to park another blast. Allen got the pitch he wanted and drilled a deep, high, soaring, long drive into left center field. Mark Koehler took off and got a bead on the ball hoping there was enough room. As Koehler approached the fence he jumped high into the air to snare the ball right before crashing into the barrier and tumbling into the grand stands with the third out nestled in his glove. Instead of celebrating a huge game-turning home run, a very stunned Junk Yard Dog team stood frozen in front of their dugout wondering what had just happened… Say What?
Although the Rebels came up with two hits in the bottom of the fifth, they failed to score and the game went into the sixth and final inning due to the tournament time limit. The Junk Yard Dogs were smelling a victory and their confidence was sky-high as they got ready to bat in the top of the inning.
After a lead-off sixth inning single, the Rebels cut the runner down with another nifty double play – another ground ball to short and an Alapai to Kuhlman to Robertson double-killing. The slick play resulted in two quick outs. The Dogs then got another hit into right putting a runner on first. The Junk Yard coach was overheard telling his team all they needed to do to win the game was get that runner at first home and the game would be theirs. They took his orders to heart as a walk moved the front runner into scoring position at second. The next man up rolled a ball wide of third into left field scoring the 10th run for the Junk Yard Dogs – they thought that insurance run would be all they needed to seal a victory. A fly ball into right field ended the inning with the Rebels facing a three-run deficit.
In the home half of the sixth it appeared that a light switch was flipped and the Rebels came to life. The Dogs were looking for three quick outs and got the exact opposite. Koehler started the Rebel comeback with his third hit of the game and a nice line drive into right. Joed McCluskey made it even more interesting with a drive into center field. Robertson cracked a line drive over the second base bag scoring Koehler. Yates delivered his third hit of the contest moving the runners along with an RBI single. Catcher Larry Rego came up with the Rebel’s fifth straight hit against the shocked Junk Yard Dogs. That hit pushed the third run of the inning across the plate tying up the game at 10 all and nobody out. Koehler came out to run for Rego at first as the potential winning run. Tommy Kuhlman hit a ball to the shortstop that got mishandled and everyone was safe. Myles Yoshida hit a fly ball deep enough in center to move the runners up registering the first out of the inning. Dave Stevens, with two hits to his credit, looped a ball into shallow right that was misjudged by the second baseman and out of reach of the right fielder. It fell in for the final hit as Koehler sprinted across home plate with the winning run.
Despite being out-hit 21 to 17, the Rebels’ game ending heroics resulted in an 11-10 victory. The team swept their bracket, propelling the Rebels into the B Division Championship game on a high note against the top team emerging from the opposite bracket.
Mark Koehler, Gary Yates and Larry Rego sparked the hitting going 3 for 3 each. Dave Steven’s turned in another sterling performance with a 3 for 4 day and J Robertson was 2 for 3. Lambert Alapai, Tom Christy and Joed McCluskey all added a hit.
Yates went the distance, picking up his third straight win while keeping the Dogs off balance and spreading out their 21 hits for minimal effect. He got a good defensive effort to check the powerful JYD on 10 runs, far below their average production.
The Rebel celebration was muted as the final Championship Game loomed on the horizon, scheduled for the next morning against Oahu’s vaunted Action team– a pure baseball team consisting of highly-skilled current AJA players who excel in all aspects of the game. The Championship Game of Division B will pit two teams that emerged undefeated from their respective brackets – a fitting challenge for both squads. Vin Skully reportedly will be doing the play-by-play for the nationally televised tilt that is already sold out.
Hitting – Mark Koehler 3-3, Gary Yates 3-3, Larry Rego 3-3, Dave Stevens 3-4, J Robertson 2-3
1B) Lambert Alapai, Tom Christy, Joed McCluskey,
Extra Base Hits – 2B) Tom Christy, Gary Yates